A fresh look at LGBTQ artist Sibley Barlow

Contemporary arts center OZ Arts Nashville is hosting a new group exhibit, Long Distance, which will be accessible in-person by appointment and virtually on the OZ Arts website from October 1 - December 21, 2020. The exhibit was curated by Nashville-based artist/curator Pam Marlene Taylor, and it features work by three Tennessee artists: Sibley Barlow, Nuveen Barwari and Duncan McDaniel.

Taylor had already chosen the works featured in Long Distance before COVID-19, but the pandemic has provided a new, and incredibly relevant lens by which to view these works. The various pieces explore the ways virtual technology connects us to the distance between identity and the body.

"This exhibition is very close to my heart. It was created before the global pandemic and now feels especially paramount to discuss during a year where almost every relationship in one's life is long distant,” said Pam Marlene Taylor, curator of Long Distance. “I'm honored to partner with OZ Arts to bring the exhibition to life in a unique space that has brought our community together for many years, and where I look forward to meeting together again in the future."

Sibley Barlow

One of the featured artists, Sibley Barlow, is a trans artist based in Murfreesboro. Their work in this show explores the time and space of existing inside their body. For their work 60 Days, Barlow took a daily photo, documenting the gradual removal of their hair. In paper sculptures/paintings representing skin, Barlow toys with the long-distance relationship with the self and one's own body. In addition, Barlow’s works featured in the exhibit, draw on queer iconography and the fraught relationship with the American flag.

Barlow’s 60 Days falls outside of the current trajectory of their work. “I did some performance art when I was younger, and that's pretty much what I'm doing in that. But that is pretty different; I don't really do performances any more,” Barlow explained. “I set up to do this performance for 60 days. Each day my goal was to take a photo of myself, as I was gradually removing bits of my hair, to glue them to my face essentially, to make different weird little beards and mustaches or just fun stuff.”

Sibley Barlow's 60 Days. Photograph by Tiffany Bessire, courtesy of Oz Arts.

“And so over the course of the 60 days, I lost more and more of my hear, and the beards got weirder and weirder. And then eventually I just had no hair left, which was the goal at the end of the performance.”

Their work in this exhibit developed as a result of “thinking about the disconnect between mind and body, who we are as people,” Barlow explained, “that almost cliche mind and body type of thought process... I was trying to approach abstractly what it's like to have a body of experiences like as it ages... And also what it's like for trans people and how their bodies also change without the self changing, or with it changing, and just the different ways that those two things interact.”

The skin-inspired pieces are incredibly jarring, and highlight the strange relationship we can have to the skins we are forced to live in. “The skin paintings are part of a series I did... they are paintings, but they're mainly sculptures. I manipulated the paper to have like different shapes, some of them were just flat paintings, but they all were intended to look like skin in different ways, in different states.”

Sibley Barlow - Skin (prior show). Photo courtesy of Sibley Barlow.

Also featured in this timely exhibit are Nuveen Barwari, a Kurdish-American artist, and sculptor Duncan McDaniel.

"We are honored to feature such a diverse group of Tennessee-based artists in this exhibit exploring the ways we can connect across barriers, geographies and identities,” said Mark Murphy, Executive and Artistic Director at OZ Arts. “It's exciting to give local audiences the opportunity to experience this artwork in-person or virtually before sharing it with our longtime partners at 21c Museum Hotel Nashville in 2021."

The exhibit will also feature virtual elements. Visitors can view the photographed pieces and a video tour of the full exhibit on the OZ Arts website and across its social media channels beginning October 1. In-person appointments to view the work can be scheduled by emailing Artistic Associate Daniel Jones at daniel@ozartsnashville.org.

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